Tuesday, February 02, 2010

BIC AI Mechanical Pencil Review

BIC AI Mechanical Pencil Review

To be honest I normally associate the BIC brand with reliable, value for money, economy price range products, including their mechanical pencils. I was a little surprised to recently see a new (at least to me) model of BIC mechanical pencil in a local store and both its price tag and appearance were a step above the norm for BIC. I decided to take a chance and buy it.
BIC AI mechanical pencil
First then the visual appearance. To my eyes the BIC AI mechanical pencil is dominated by a large almost oversize looking chrome pocket clip. It really does stand out against the dark blue and black body. I won’t say that the AI is a beautiful or classic looking mechanical pencil but it is eye-catching, and not in an eyesore sort of way.
BIC AI mechanical pencil clip view
In the hand the AI is relatively lightweight as expected. The balance is noticeably slightly top heavy, although that top heavy feeling is not totally backed up by the position of the centre of balance measurement. The AI mechanical pencil has a rubber grip zone. The rubber grip has a slightly bulbous contour and a smooth surface apart from one grooved line running through it. The rubber material is quite hard and only of limited grippy-ness factor. Basically it’s one of those rubber grips that don’t rate highly with me. At just over 11mm (7/16th inch) diameter the grip is on the wider side of town and it’s bulbous contour isn’t really to my personal liking.
grip zone BIC AI mechanical pencil
I have previously mentioned the large pocket clip, which is chrome plated plastic. It is not sprung, but quite stiff and reliable.
My AI mechanical pencil is 0.7mm lead size, and was supplied with a spare container of BIC lead refills.
BIC lead refills
There is a small eraser beneath the top button, and you pull the eraser out to access the lead refill magazine which doesn’t hold a large number of refills.
BIC AI mechanical pencil lead chamber access
Now then, onto the main feature of the AI mechanical pencil – it’s lead advance mechanism. It is a push top ratchet advance mechanism with the addition of a shaker, and it is also an auto-advancer. Let’s take these one at a time. Firstly as an ordinary push top ratchet mechanism it feels a good positive mechanism, with a positive click and a rather long activation stroke.
Ten clicks will get you about 8mm of 0.7mm lead. The shaker mechanism works well, and seems about the right sensitivity – you don’t have to shake it too hard but equally it isn’t too sensitive to inadvertent movements. One problem I did have though is feeding new leads. On several occasions when an old stick of lead had worn out a new one just would not feed through from the lead magazine and I had to resort to sticking one in through the spout, so to speak. Other times though new leads would feed from the magazine. Perhaps some minor difference in lead diameter, or some contour on the end of a particular stick of lead causes it to catch and not feed through…who knows?

Lastly then we come to the auto-advance feature of the AI. Now I have previously reviewed a few auto-advance mechanical pencils and generally been on the unimpressed side of the fence. So then, trying to keep a positive frame of mind, what about the BIC AI mechanical pencil?
BIC AI mechanical pencil front section and tip
Firstly then the tip or lead sleeve is a short conical plastic sleeve and it is not retractable. Just to be clear though, you can retract the lead back inside the pencil. When writing with this pencil and the lead wears down enough to trigger the auto-advance feature you don’t really notice it. Sometimes the line you write is definitely lighter than normal, sometimes you can notice some drag-through effect as you cross back over an existing line on the paper but overall it’s pretty good. Whilst mechanical pencil nuts might notice these things I’m not sure the general public would, or would care if they did. Like all auto-advancers I know, this one works best with frequent removal from the paper. Lifting the lead on and off the paper allows the auto-advance to activate so drawing long lines or writing long connected cursive script can cause some problems.

The lead sleeve (tip) does have some small amount of bend or wobble it. Those of you who demand precision, then stay away. Personally I can live with it for normal writing purposes but I did note sometimes my line was not quite exactly where I intended. This was exacerbated when using auto-advance because you don’t really have an easily visible lead tip to place on the paper. As always I would suggest you use the auto-advance feature only as a back-up. Use the push top button or shaker to routinely advance lead, and let the auto-advancer kick in only temporarily.
Having said all that above, the BIC AI auto-advance has one feature that took me by surprise. No plunging. Now I don’t know if this is a new and improved mechanism that has eliminated the dreaded plunging, or somehow my particular pencil was immune to it, but it made a huge difference to me. I hate it when auto-advancers plunge. You are writing away and suddenly the pencil seems to plunge forward into the paper, or the tip slowly disappears back up inside the pencil. Grrrrrrr! Well, my AI had none of that. It was a very pleasant surprise, and I take my hat off to BIC and the factory in China that makes this mechanical pencil.

At the beginning of this post I wrote, “I decided to take a chance and buy it" (BIC AI). Well, because of the workable auto-advance mechanism it was worth it, lady luck was smiling on me that day.
I rolled a 6 on the die

• Best Points – An auto-advance mechanism that is actually acceptable.
• Not So Good Points – I’m sure they could do better with the grip.
• Price Range – Low.
• Does this pencil make it into the Top 5? - No.

Dimensions – Length 144mm, diameter 11mm at widest part of grip. Balance point about 75mm up from the tip.

39 comments:

memm said...

Sounds great: Three different lead advance mechanisms in one pencil ...and the auto-advance one seems to be working well. Even though it's not necessarily the most handsome pencil the cap looks really good. Thank you for the review.

Time Waster said...

Bic has a ways to go to catch up to Pentel but it has me worried it's so much more about the marketed e-click and icy pencils in America it seems stuff that breaks easily and is done for hipsters.

Bic has a ok looking pencil called the Quantec which looks ok but haven't spent the green on it mainly because of the plastic tip.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave, I realy like your site!
My name is Pablo I'm Brazilian.
I'm a designer, and I only work with
mechanical pencils!
Can you help me with some doubts about mechanical pencils???
Thank you

Pablo Oyarzún

Kiwi-d said...

Olá Pablo
What is your question?

Anonymous said...

Hi Kiwi-d!
Thanks for your answer!
I'm searching mechanical pencils that are bigger than 0.9mm and smaller than 2.0mm. I know that they are rare and if you cold give a clue for search.
sorry my english is not so good.
Thank you a lot!!!

Pablo Oyarzún

Kiwi-d said...

Well 1.18mm, 1.3mm and 1.4mm are the main lead sizes in that range. If you Google search for
'1.3mm mechanical pencils' (or change to 1.4mm or 1.18mm, or 1.1mm as many sites list 1.18mm as 1.1mm) it will bring you up some results.

Do you want one for children, for general writing, for an expensive gift like a Yard-O-Led 1.18mm pencil?

Anonymous said...

Hi
I search for 1.4mm, but I just found the "E-Motion" and it's very expensive!!!
1.4mm is perfect to me!
But I need one not so expensive.

Can you tell me some 1.4mm mechanical pencils???

Do you know if there is 2H leads for 1.4mm???

I will use in my drawing works, that's why it's so important.
thank you again

Pablo Oyarzún

Kiwi-d said...

Pablo, here's a few to look at, 1.3 or 1.4mm pencils.
Faber-Castell Propelling Pencil
Stabilo Easyergo - there is a new 1.3mm version
Staedtler 771

The range of leads in these sizes is very limited. Probably only HB, and maybe B.

Anonymous said...

Hi!
I just knew the Staedtler one.
The Stabilo seems good!!!
Maybe they will do 2H leads in the future.
I will be looking your site
hope you show us some new 1.3 or 1.4 mechanical pencils
Thank you for your help!

Pablo Oyarzún

memm said...

I saw the BIC AI yesterday. The shop sold the 0.5mm version in black. After your post here I couldn't resist buying one to try the triple lead advance system. Plus I like the look of the cap :)

John said...

Dave,
Your site is top draw, thanks!
I have a query that I think only you can answer.
I am looking for a Mechanical pencil that is good for draughting and that is thin. I recently got a Staedtler 925 which I like, however I have small hands and prefer the thin element of cheaper pencils. Is there a pencil out there which can combine my two requirement? Don't worry to much just wondered if anything came to mind.
Thanks
John
Thanks alot.

Kiwi-d said...

John - the 925 grip is a fairly normal sort of daiameter. Nothing really leaps to mind. The Pentel P205 and its relatives are slightly narrower, but there's not much in it.

Chad said...

I believe this mechanism is also sold in the U.S. as the Zebra Frisha. The cosmetics are a little different, but the end cones look just alike. The text on the back of the different packages describing their functions is very much the same down to the font. Kotobuki strikes again?
Some of us have been paying attention, Dave. Office supply nerds unite.

Kiwi-d said...

Hi Chad
Well I'm glad you have been paying attention. I'm sure this mechanism must exist in many other pencils - I'm not sure if its different to "the plungers", or an improvement, or I just got the one good one that doesn't plunge.
I think the 'Made in China' removes Kotobuki from the equation...but who knows, maybe they've got a factory in China.

Milena said...

The Zebra Frisha does use a similar mechanism- it is also a 3-in-1 with the push advance, shaker, and auto-advance mechanisms, but the styling is different as you can see here: http://jaekidmz.img4.kr/zebra/sharp/prisha/subcopy.jpg

I have one that I bought in Taiwan, and I quite like how it looks and feels.

This was around the time that I discovered the shaker mechanism and I also bought the Pilot Shaker-X, chiefly for its heft, as I like a pencil with some heft so it's not too light in the hand. It was my favorite pencil for a while. It's big and thick but the lead is only 0.5mm. http://www.cultpens.com/acatalog/Pilot_Shaker_Pencils.html (last one on the page).

a nobud said...

How does the auto advancer activate? Just wondering

Kiwi-d said...

In essence, as the lead wears down eventually the lead sleeve starts scarping on the paper and is pushedback up the lead. Then when you lift the lead off the paper (i.e. to start a new letter) the sleeve and lead spring back out, ready to start the cycle over again.

Germ said...

John, which Staedtler 925? 925 05, 925 25 05, 925 35 05, 925 85 05, or 925 95 05?

jeremy

Victor said...

I need to offer one correction to this excellent review. The tip is retractable--at least it is on mine--but it takes doing. You push and hold the lead advance plunger down, then press the tip firmly on a hard surface. It will retract even if you don't release the plunger, but it goes a bit easier if you reduce tension on the plunger as the tip starts back into the body.

Kiwi-d said...

Hi Victor - does it stay retracted, or does it just pop straight back out?

Victor said...

It stays retracted. You have to push the plunger pretty firmly to get it to redeploy. This is very handy for pocket carry because neither the shake nor auto advance are operational until it's redeployed. I also have a Zebra Frisha; and it does exactly the same thing.

Kiwi-d said...

Kia ora Victor. Well I have had off-site comments about this too, hence my question to you, but was sticking to my guns. Now however with your description of the action and some experimentation I see what you mean. So, yes, you (and the others) are correct, it is retractable. Interesting there is no mention of this on the packaging. Also mine makes a very disconcerting loud clunk sound when I do this retraction - almost as if it isn't really supposed to be done.

Kiwi-d said...

Victor, my apologies, I meant to finish with, "Thanks for your comments".

Victor said...

Regarding retraction, after some more experimentation I find I was over-complicating the instructions. All that is needed to retract the tip is to half-depress the plunger and then press the tip against a hard surface. It goes in easier then having it fully depressed then reducing pressure on the plunger. The key spot to having depressed it far enough seems to be right after the felt resistence break point when the lead advances.

I also noticed this feature wasn't documented on the packaging or anywhere else I've looked. I believe it's not damaging. I've done it many times with no ill effects, but that isn't a guarenttee. It's strange that it wouldn't get mentioned by BIC, when it no doubt took much effort to engineer. To me, it works too consistently to be an accident.

I've also noticed the sound it makes when retracting. It seems to be engaging something inside the pencil when it goes in. It also makes a noise coming out, like the tip is being released by something. When I bought it, the tip was retracted and I remember it making the same noise coming out the first time it has each time after.

Kiwi-d said...

Thanks Victor. Thats interesting, the tip on my pencil was defintely extended when I bought it. I did initially check for retraction - but obviously not well enough. I could retract it, but it would pop straight back out, but I was doing it a different way.

Anonymous said...

Just purchased a 2 pack of the Bic AI (or is it A1???_ 0.7 mm pencil. It's quite good actually, and I recommend all of you to pick one up. The click mechanism is very unique, you have to press it down HARD in order to get the tip out, then from there, you can click to advance the lead. The shaker mechanism works very well like Dave mentioned. Btw Dave, where did you purchase your Bic AI? The packaging and everything is hugely different from the one I bought!

Kiwi-d said...

I got mine at a local office supplies. I'm sure BIC have a multitude of different packaging options for their various subsidiaries around the world.

Anonymous said...

I personally think the Bic AI are one of the best pencils in the world! Btw, Dave, can you recommend some 0.7 mm mechanical pencils for me? I'm an avid collector and favor 0.7 pencils. Also, please recommend ones that have grips. Thx!

Anonymous said...

I recently got one, a 0.5 mm version, it's awesome looking and the AI name is awesome too, like a robot.

Anonymous said...

i like the 0.5 mm version of this pencil...even though i borrowed a 0.7 mm version of it from my cousin im more of a .5 mm person...and you can retract the tip into the pencil you just have to push the tip harder...then its instantly pocket safe

Anonymous said...

On 6/12/2010 I purchased Bic #41889 consisting of two A1 0.5 mm pencils in the same pack.
Shockingly, neither of them would advance the 0.5 mm lead by ANY means (even after hand loading from the tip). I don't see any version of the A1 on the bic website, so may be they have rightfully pulled it from the market. Unbelievably bad experience.

Sketchup Molecule said...

i got an ai very good though that the auto matic sleeve advance doesn,t work on mine . i have the red colour

Sketchup Molecule said...

online the bic website says it sells in europe and it doesn't!!!!!!!!!!!

themagician said...

Hi,
Thanks for these comments, I just bought one BIC AI 5mm and I though it didn't work! I was going to throw it away, ha!
Yes I've got to press it down HARD, to start up, the shake it to make the lead come out, and also in their site it says that the lead comes out "as you write", well I don't know how yet..

joeyfuss said...

Hi all! Just wanted to comment on the Bic AI. I purchased the .5mm version, which I believe is an extremely attractive pencil, to do a little work with pencil and paper gaming. I must say, I LOVE THIS PENCIL. I've used many mechanicals but I like this one the best. I actually like the thickness of the grip, I find it helps to study my hand. All three advancing mechanisms work superbly and smoothly. I even like the thin eraser with cap. Does Bic offer a refill specifically for this set? If so, I have yet to find it. Also, as this was released some time ago now, are there any newer models similar to this, even from other brands?

Matthias said...

After having used the BIC AI for a while I have to say that it is really good, especially for coloured leads, which tend to break easily. I used auto-advance pencils for coloured leads in the past, but they were a mess - the lead broke too often.

Until recently I used a Staedtler Regulator for coloured leads, but after trying the BIC AI I have to say that (until I find a even more suitable pencil) it will be my standard mech. pencil for coloured leads.

Anonymous said...

that is wierd my .5mm version's tip is retractabe...and in your first picture when the pencil is in its package the tip is retracted...

Lefty

Kiwi-d said...

Lefty - there's quite a bit of discussion about retraction in the comments with Victor and others. My statement about not retractable is not correct.

David@Bible Highlighter said...

I absolutely love this pencil! It was on a discount when I bought it and fell in love with it as soon as I busted it out! One of the best things to me was the shaker mode as I call it. I love shaking this thing out it makes it real easy when taking notes. Thanks for the awesome review I am book marking this site!